Cut short the long-format ads, understand your responsibility towards the viewers
3.33. 3.53. 4.40. 7.16. Before you shut this paper and run a mile, we will have you know that this isn't a complicated math problem coming your way, but the durations of some of the ads you've been seeing of late. With our daily dose of listicles masquerading as news for our seriously short attention spans, one would think quick and easy fixes are the way to go.
The world of advertising begs to differ, though, offering a paradox. A spate of really long ads are the not-so-new kids on the block, where brands are taking the liberty to take as long as seven minutes to narrate their mostly heartwarming stories, The year is seeing a lot of the films that take their time to tell the tale, both internationally and back home.
Most recently, KitKat and Pepsi jumped on the Diwali bandwagon, and two much talked about long-format films were born. They are usually released online, making it an inexpensive medium to tell powerful stories. But with such ads clearly becoming a regular trend, we have to ask; are brands really justifying the length of their communication with stories that are compelling enough? And do they work?
Piyush Pandey executive chairman and creative director, Ogilvy & Mather India and South Asia, the man behind Fortune Oil's emotive four-minute 'Ghar ka khaana' ad, believes, "With long-format, your single responsibility is to the viewer. It's like people who make movies. A viewer of a long-format ad has made the effort to click on your film. It's not like he was sitting around watching something else and the ad came on. It's your responsibility to make sure he feels rewarded after the time spent and says 'I must share this with my friends.' I am assuming as professionals we know that we have a responsibility to the brand."
For T Gangadhar, MD, MEC India, it was the advertising during FIFA that has lingered on in his mind, especially the riveting spots by Nike and Adidas. "The episodic treatment, the fleshing out of the idea, the execution was such that there would have been no other way to create them except through the medium of long-format," he says, admitting that he really didn't notice the amount of time he was investing in watching them.
Globally, too, brands have asked their agencies to deep dive into this particular style of creative build up for some time now. From Johnnie Walker to Dove and many in between, several brands have tried and tested using this narrative style for some years now.
Apart from Fortune Oil, KitKat, Pepsi, Google's 'Reunion' and #PledgeToVote, Tata Sky+'s 'Prison Break' and Kissan's 'Joy of Togetherness' are some of the Indian ads that went much beyond the proverbial 30 seconds.
Narayan Devanathan, EVP and national planning director, Dentsu India Group thinks of this trend as a fad, though. "To me, this seems like the work of diva creative directors who want to cash in on lack of extra mediabuying costs, the freedom the internet offers as a medium and the fact that they might be able to wiggle out a few favours from the directors in the same budget," he says bluntly.
Perhaps brand managers are looking at creating these epics as a feather in their cap. But Devanathan and Gangadhar would rather brands didn't make long-format ads a fashion statement, please. It is best if the idea defines how much time it needs to unfold, instead of the other way around. But is there a formula as to who should or shouldn't leverage this medium? "Boring brands have gone ahead to create some interesting long format ads, while some interesting brands have put out some boring ones," says Gautam Kiyawat, CEO, Madison Media, implying that anyone with a good story should go ahead. But what makes marketers give a green signal to agencies?
Mayur Bhargav, general manager (Chocolate and Confectionery), Nestle India mentions that his digital centre noticed that India's successful Mars mission was generating a lot of positive discussions on social media. They went ahead to create the KitKat Diwali film, knowing that its topical nature rated it high on the shareable scale.
Gangadhar, however, wasn't too convinced by the film. "If the video is going to be longer than 30 seconds, then it needs to become more content and less 'advertising', especially for the internet, where brands aim at making content people would want to share. The KitKat Diwali film, to me, was quite 'addy' in that sense."
Senthil Kumar, JWT India's NCD and Suresh Eriyat, director, Eeksaurus, the men who made the KitKat film, believe that there making these spots can be a challenge. "It's easier to hide the imperfections in 30 seconds, but the long format tests almost every limit that creative guys know of," Kumar reveals. Eriyat elaborates, "Unlike short format ads, the biggest challenge in a long format ad is losing objectivity.
Another danger is that it can end up becoming boring and monotonous. I am of the opinion that if one sees the KitKat campaign out of the context of Diwali, it may seem irrelevant." At the end of the day, what do consumers feel about these ads, really? Devanathan, donning his planner's hat, mentions, "The Pepsi 'Ghar wali Diwali' film, to me, lacked Pepsi's youthfulness and Kurkure's wackiness."
But advertising and planning be damned, he says, considering consumers didn't really care about the ad's length or whether it had the brand's values at the core. They were touched by the emotion and shared the ad nevertheless, making it a viral success.
The long and short of storytelling on digital is that the canvas is yet to reach its creative tipping point, as brands are taking their own sweet time exploring the medium.